Sally Lo's work allows her to meet heroes every day from all walks of life, and for that she feels extremely fortunate. What makes each of these people exceptional is that they, or a close friend or relative, have been diagnosed with cancer.
That news and the adjustments that follow are never easy to deal with. But Lo, in her role as founder and CEO of the Hong Kong Cancer Fund, has made it her business over 20-plus years to give support, care and advice to those who need it. 'I am driven by the personal stories,' says Lo, who was drawn to the cause by unforeseen circumstances in the mid-1980s, when a good friend and a mother of three was given a few months to live. Nursing her through those final weeks, Lo was touched personally, but was also struck by the lack of support services and day-to-day help for people with cancer.
So, with a small group of like-minded professionals, and having 20 years' experience working with the Duchess of Kent Hospital, she resolved to do something about it. The idea was to fill in the gaps by collaborating with people who could help make life easier for those affected.
'Support and information for people living with chronic illness 25 years ago was simply not available,' she says. 'That inspired me and, since I don't believe in reinventing the wheel, I started by getting the comprehensive free publications available in London hospitals and asking if we could translate and edit [them] for the community here.'
Since its establishment in 1987, the group has grown in size and scope, providing a network of support with home visits, information and practical assistance for cancer patients and carers. In 2010/2011, more than 108,000 attendances were recorded in the six cancer-patient resource centres, about 67,000 visits were noted in the three CancerLink support centres, and more than 11,000 calls were answered by the CancerLink hotline. All Cancer Fund services are free.
There has also been increasing attention over the years to education initiatives, palliative care, public awareness campaigns and raising funds to make it all possible.
The impetus comes from knowing, whatever the advances in medical science, there will always be individuals who need support.
Lo recalls meeting a man who wore a surgical appliance and had not been out of his home for 10 years. There were also meetings with people hardly able to speak after laryngectomies, who would benefit from the therapy provided by the New Voice Club, a group funded by the Cancer Fund. Projects such as the Haven of Hope hospice - the first of its kind - and today's CancerLink support centres in the community, with as many as 180 visitors a day, are built on the spirit of collaboration and the drive to ensure no one faces cancer alone.
'I would say yes and then find the money. That has been the story of my life. I have found that everything is possible; if you want it badly enough, it will happen. One just needs to have the passion and persistence to make things work,' Lo says. Her priorities include outreach programmes on the mainland and educating people about the importance of early detection and treatment of cancer.
'Everybody is touched by cancer. That is why I take my work very seriously and find it so fulfilling and meaningful.'